In Mumbai’s BEST bus system- Fight for equal pay for equal work!

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BEST has such a history of its own. ‘Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport’ (BEST) is the public transport system of Mumbai. Even if you look at the construction of the BEST administration building in Mumbai, you can see that a lot of effort was taken to build a permanent building so that the people can benefit from these welfare schemes for many years to come. In Mumbai, the financial capital of India, BEST Bus was a tour of Mumbai. Our ‘BEST’ bus services are studied to start bus services in other states of India. No Mumbaikar can forget the service provided by BEST Bus when Mumbai was flooded due to rainwater. Working women in Mumbai can travel at night and early morning without any problem. The government of Maharashtra and the BEST administration itself are involved in the conspiracy to privatize such an important public transport. Government intends to end public transport service ‘BEST’. It has started by reducing BEST’s own fleet and allowing private contractors to run the buses. These contractors are making profit by exploiting the workers for their own gain.

Mumbai has a large working class population and the passengers traveling in BEST buses are the common needy people. This cheap and affordable public transport helps them a lot to reach the workplace. The BEST bus is an intimate topic in the daily life of the people of Mumbai. It is part of their needs. The BEST Bus administration is taking advantage of the same and trying to privatize this public transport service by fooling the public.

The money collected from the general public by providing BEST Bus private transport will be able to earn them as profit. They have started playing with the lives of workers and passengers by providing cheap buses to make profit. By reducing the expenditure on the training of the workers, the lives of the passengers and the workers themselves have been put at risk. These forced labourers are working for low wages. They are seen being harassed at work. According to the labour concept of the law, this wet lease (rented buses) worker does not fit under the labour law as a worker. Therefore, all the labour laws are violated and the contractors exploit the workers. As a result, these contract workers are living in very poor conditions. Desperate and indebted due to meagre salaries, some of them committed suicide.

In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court observed that denying equal pay for equal work in this welfare state would be exploitative, oppressive and oppressive. With the help of this important observation, ‘Sangarsha Karmkar Kamgar Union’ has been continuously raising its voice against the injustice of these workers for the last two-three years and agitating on their issues. Struggle for the implementation of the Supreme Court order, the Sangharsh Karmakar Lagmar Union has started an agitation for the just demands of the wet lease workers of Best Buses in Mumbai and the main demand is equal pay for equal work. Around 9000 workers of Wet Lease (rented buses) joined the strike.


On 31st July, the family of wet lease (rented buses) worker Raghunath Khajurkar started the agitation by personally starting a fast. Seeing the increasing support and participation in the hunger strike, the government has announced that the hunger strikers will visit the Chief Minister of the state on August 2. Here the movement was given a different turn. While there was no discussion on Chief Minister’s barrow, it was pretended to be, an attempt was made to mislead the workers. The woman who was sympathizing with the hunger strike was not giving information about what the Chief Minister was saying. The workers involved in the agitation were informing that she was hiding the information.

On August 3,2023 the executive meeting of the Sangharsh Samgar Karmkarya Union decided that in support of the hunger strike, we should protest under the banner of our union and present our demand letter and statement at Wadala Best Depot. The workers were so appealed to and the very next day all the workers working on wet-lease buses from Magathane, Gorai, Malvani, Dindoshi, Marol, Oshiwara, Santacruz, Dharavi, Worli, Mumbai Central, Backbay, Pratishka Nagar, Colaba, etc., Deonar, Shivaji Nagar, A demand letter statement was made to the parent owner of BEST, BEST Enterprises, following a successful Wet-Lease employee march from Ghatkopar, Mulund Depot to Wadala BEST Depot. And its copy was given to Chief Minister, private bus companies like Daga, Hansa, Mateshwari and Labor Commissioner. At Azad Maidan, the march supported the hunger strike by carrying Union flags and banners.

On August 5, a meeting of 700 to 800 workers was held in a hall near the CITU office near Azad Maidan. In this gathering, Uday Bhat of BEST Labour Organization, Ranganath Satwase of Sangharsh Union, Harish Gaikwad, Bashir Ahmed, Lata Parab, J. M. Kahar and Manoj Yadav, guided the workers. All Wet-Lease employees participated in this protest and decided to visit the depot on 06.08.2023 to call for a bandh. As planned on 6th August, the Union met all wet-lease depots and emphasized the importance of holding a march from Kotwal Garden to Wadala Depot on 7th BEST anniversary, along with a civic forum named “Aamchi Mumbai Aamchi Best”. On August 7, the march was refused by the government, the police locked the Kotwal Garden, so the march was moved to Dadar TT, where the rally decided to go to Wadala Depot, but as the police stopped again, four to four people gradually gathered in front of Wadala Depot.

800 employees of trade unions, public organizations, BEST retired workers, youth and students, women’s organizations as well as CPI(M), CPI, Shekap, Samajwadi Party, Red Nishan Party, Congress Party and Wet-lease participated in this program. Our Mumbai Our Best forum convener Shri. Vidyadhar Date, Mrs. Sandhya Gokhale, Shri. The delegation of Ujjwala Mhatre presented a statement on behalf of all the employees, passengers and citizens after discussing about wet-lease employees, development of the initiative. CITU President Comrade Vartak, Janwadi Mahila Sangathan Comrade Sugandhi Francis, Comrade Anju Divekar, Comrade Prakash Reddy (CPI), Comrade Sadanand Yadav (Retired BEST Workers Union), Arvind Kanginkar (BWU) Mr. Nitin Patil (BEU), Comrade Jaganarayan (Sangharsh Ka.K.Union), Vidyadhar Date, Ujjwala Mhatre addressed the workers. 


On August 8, the Chief Minister verbally agreed to the hunger striker Pragya Khajurkar’s general demands and asked him to call off the eight-day-long strike and Pragya Khajurkar immediately called off her hunger strike. Meanwhile, the electronic and print media created confusion among the workers by reporting that the complete strike had been called off. Confused workers, around 500 agitating workers contacted the union and gathered at the office of CITU Labour Union and unanimously decided to continue the agitation. The workers decided not to withdraw until the Chief Minister agreed to the demands in writing. 


Due to the Chief Minister’s verbal assurance and media campaign and Pragya Khajurkar’s appeal to call off the strike, nearly 85 percent of the buses started running smoothly the next day on August 9. In this protest, court notices were issued to 126 workers by private companies, two workers from Back Bay depot were arrested and union workers from different depots were arrested. On behalf of the union, the workers were immediately helped and secured with the help of Adv.Chandrakant Bhojgar, Adv.Raju Korde. two employees of Backbay Depot. Were arrested for which Adv. Kishore Samant made an immediate efforts to complete the court process and freed both the employees.

The union held an executive meeting immediately and decided that the employees should join the work. Three companies filed a complaint against about 56 workers under various laws in the Industrial Court for the employees who were sent notices, court notices, on 11 August 2023, the Industrial Court on 11 August 2023, on behalf of the workers, the Sangharsh Workers Union stood up and showed evidence in the court that the management was not hiring these workers and  practicing favouritism and discrimination in hiring workers connected to Union. After this matter was noticed by the management counsel, the next day on 12th August, 123 members of the union were joined by undertaking. Comrades Harish Gaikwad, Lata Parab, Bashir Ahmed, Ranganath Satwase and Jagnarayan Kahar played important roles in this movement. Public buses are an ongoing struggle of workers against privatization-contracting of transport services and equal pay for equal work.

– Lata Parab

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